Gender News in Taiwan
#MeToo in Taiwan exposes a hidden culture of harassment

Over the past several weeks, more than a dozen sexual harassment cases involving prominent politicians, academics, cultural figures, and exiled Chinese dissidents have emerged across Taiwan.

In one of the latest allegations, a young woman posted on Facebook last week that she had been sexually assaulted by Bartosz Rys, the former deputy representative of the de facto Polish embassy in Taiwan.

The woman, Yu-Fen Lai, said the alleged incident took place in September 2022. She filed a complaint in November 2022 but went public with the accusations after Taiwanese prosecutors decided not to pursue charges against Rys following an investigation.

In response to Lai's Facebook post, Rys, who has subsequently left Taiwan, rejected the allegations on Twitter, emphasizing that he does not enjoy diplomatic immunity, and that investigators determined that the charges were not substantiated.

Lai insists that she is not lying and her decision to go public was encouraged by other women revealing experiences with sexual harassment as the #MeToo movement takes root in Taiwan.

In late May, a spate of sexual harassment cases emerged from Taiwan's ruling Democratic Progressive Party (DPP), forcing several high-ranking party leaders to resign. In response, the DPP's chairperson Lai Ching-Te, and Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen both issued public apologies.

Questions have been raised as to how the slew of sexual harassment allegations could affect the DPP's performance in national elections set for January. President Tsai has called for reforms promoting gender equality and for Taiwan to create mechanisms for reporting sexual harassment.

"If the DPP establishes a better mechanism to handle sexual harassment cases, it can let the public know that they are serious about addressing the problems, which may limit the impact of the movement on DPP's performance in the election," said Wei-Ting Yen, a political scientist at the Franklin and Marshall College in the United States.

Taiwan's culture of silence

According to experts, although Taiwan is a progressive democracy that has legalized same-sex marriage, the culture remains conservative, and chauvinism still exists in workplaces and politics.

"Taiwan's culture is very tolerant of men, so while sexual harassment has been happening all along and women from the older generation may be aware of these cases, they might tell young women to 'put up with it,'" Yen told DW.

Yen added that it's difficult for victims in Taiwan to step forward because they may be "judged" by the public for sharing details.

"It takes a lot of courage to talk about these experiences, but since they may not be treated justly, many victims are reluctant to talk about them and prefer to remain silent," she told DW.

Fan Yun, DPP lawmaker and a leading figure in Taiwan's feminist movement, told DW that many women choose not to report workplace sexual harassment either because they worry about losing their jobs or because they don't trust the reporting system.

"Even though Taiwan has sexual harassment prevention act and other regulations to address similar issues, the existing mechanisms are inadequate, which prompts the victims to reveal their experiences online," she said. 


Netflix show helps inspire women to speak out

The recent influx of sexual harassment allegations comes after the release of a popular Netflix drama, "Wave Makers," which depicts the life and work of political campaign staffers, and also addresses sexual harassment in politics.

The show triggered a nationwide discussion about the persisting issue of sexual harassment or sexual assault cases being routinely suppressed or mishandled.

Some analysts say the sexual harassment storyline in "Wave Makers" resonated with many Taiwanese women's real-life problems with sexual harassment, which may have encouraged more women to come forward.

"It just so happens that a lot of things, including years of women's and gender movements, have built up to this point in time, and there is a popular drama that brings out the issue of sexual harassment," said Jennifer Lu, Director of Asia at Outright International, who is a long-time gender and LGBTQ activist in Taiwan.

According to Lu, the younger generation also plays an important role in facilitating the #MeToo movement, as they are more open about sharing their thoughts and ideas.

"Over the last few weeks, many women are saying that they want their voices back, and I think social media played an important role by offering them a platform to share their personal experiences," she told DW.

How is Taiwan responding?

To improve how Taiwan handles sexual harassment cases, a bipartisan group of legislators organized a hearing on Monday, calling on the government to immediately amend existing laws and close the loopholes in the reporting system.

Feminist activist Lu said that it's important to ensure sexual harassment victims have safe spaces to report sexual harassment, which includes protecting their jobs.

"If there is not enough protection, many women still won't report sexual harassment as they don't want their future career development to be affected if they reveal details," she said.

Lai said that victims of sexual harassment or assault face a long road to recovery and it is important for them to understand that they don't have to rush themselves through the process. "It's a difficult process, and for those who are not ready to speak out about their experiences, it's ok as they shouldn't feel forced," she said. "No one should be rushed."

[DW, 2023-6-13]

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